In 2015, 75% of employees rated flexibility as their most desired benefit. And perhaps more importantly for the future of work, Millennials seem to care more about a flexible workplace than any other generation.
As Millennials come to dominate the workforce, it’s clear that the traditional understanding of work-life balance is changing. In the past, work-life balance was meant to protect employee’s personal lives by creating separate spheres of life: work and home. Those two spheres were never meant to overlap.
But as technology has evolved, employees can now be online and available 24/7, not just from 9-5. But in a world where employees are constantly plugged in, how do you achieve work-life balance?
Shifting desires for flexibility and evolving technology points to the future of work: work-life integration. The idea behind work life integration is simple–instead of separating work and home life, they intertwine and coexist side by side.
In practice, this might be an employee leaving work for an hour to run errands, then dialing into a 7pm meeting from home. It might mean employees work from home so they can take care of a sick child, or take an afternoon break to go to the gym then work from home for a bit in the evening. At its core, work-life integration allows employees the freedom to choose when and how they work.
It can also free employees from the guilt of checking work email at home, because they can also deal with personal matters at work. It takes away the pressure to achieve the perfect work-life balance, and instead lets employees find the balance that works best for them.
But in order to achieve work-life integration, companies need to give their employees the right tools, freedom, and trust to work anywhere, any time.
Use the right technology
As the “work from anywhere” employee becomes more common, companies need to make sure they’re providing the right tools for their employees to be productive from, well, anywhere.
Remote workers need tools that allow them to do the following:
Access information anywhere: In order to be productive, employees need to have access to their files and communication from wherever they are. Practically speaking, this means using the cloud for file storage and an email client with web access. Tools like ShareFile can keep information accessible.
Log into a central hub: Employees who are working on the go and need feedback from a colleague or want to see the status of their current project, need to see the central hub where their work is structured and organised. On our team, we use Podio to organise workflows and communication between teams.
Communicate with teammates and clients: To collaborate and get work done quickly, employees need access to communication tools that allow them to email or chat their teammates, jump on a video call with their manager, or join a conference call with a client or customer. Tools like GoToMeeting can help teams communicate with each other quickly.
When companies or managers choose tools, it’s important to keep in mind that more and more employees will be working from their mobile devices, so mobile accessibility is a must.
The beauty of work-life integration is that people can figure out how they work best. Some employees will be more productive working from home, while others will want to be in the office. Some might want to work for an hour, take a walk outside, work some more, then head to the gym for a bit.
But work-life integration will only work for a team if they’re allowed to experiment with different working styles. Managers should encourage employees to experiment with different techniques and find their unique style. Here are a few areas that employees should be encouraged to think about:
- Locations: Do you work better at the office, at home, a coffee shop, the library, or a combination of places? If you’re working from the office, do you work best at your desk, in a conference room alone, or in a communal space?
- Work time: Do you work best early in the morning or late in the afternoon? Structure your day around your most productive hours. Maybe you need to work from home in the morning when you’re most productive, then take a break in the afternoon when energy lags.
- Work style: Do you work better alone or in groups? Are you a more creative worker or analytical? Are you deadline oriented or more results oriented?
Experimenting with new workstyles can take time, so teams should be prepared to iron bumps out along the way.
At its foundation, work-life integration requires managers and companies to trust their employees. It also places the responsibility of productivity on the employee’s shoulders. To make sure flexible working is a sustainable solution, employees and managers should agree on expectations and results:
- Clearly define roles: It should be clear what each individual is responsible for, and how that work overlaps with work from other teammates. Each person should feel a sense of ownership with their work–they should know what they own and feel empowered to do that work effectively.
- Emphasise the importance of work: Everyone should clearly see how their individual responsibilities contribute to the wider goals of the team and business. Employees should see why their work is significant.
- Define expected outcomes: Employees and managers should discuss what the expected outcomes are for a given period of time (the week, month, quarter, etc.). This allows employees to plan their time around deadlines and deliverables–that way they can schedule their personal and work time accordingly. Employees should also have regular check ins with their managers to ensure work is on track.
The future of work looks nothing like its past. New technologies mean the 9-5 work day is dead, but in its place is a more integrated, holistic working style. As our work culture moves more and more towards integrated work-life, companies need to ensure the proper tools, culture, and expectations are in place, so both businesses and employees can succeed.